Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Jewish Lessons From a Teach-In

Syracuse University Professors Zachary Braiterman recounts his experiences volunteering to provide a perspective on antisemitism at a "teach-in" organized in response to the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally. It's thoughtful, nuanced, and recounts a mostly (though not entirely) positive experience. The most important thing it emphasizes is that -- to reiterate -- influence is wielded by the people in the room. If you're worried that discretely Jewish experiences of and vulnerabilities to the rising tide of far-right extremism are not being fully or fairly aired, then put yourself in a position where you're airing them.

The way that Zachary got on this panel was straight-forward: he volunteered. None of the organizers asked him about Zionism; nobody put him through an "are you a good Jew or a bad Jew" battery of questions. That isn't to say that such things never happen, but here they didn't. And when it turned out that the original date for the teach-in was to be Rosh Hashana, the fact that Zachary was in the room meant that he was well-positioned to facilitate a change of date while there was still time to do so.

Again, the experience wasn't entirely seamless. While Zachary relates that his talk resolutely did not speak about Zionism or anti-Zionism, an audience member took it upon herself to try to draw a link between Zionism and American militancy. But the fact that someone like Zachary was on the panel meant that he was the one who got to address that question. Again, what benefits we see from being in the room.

In some respects, Zachary's account reminds me of the experiences I relayed in this post (only even more positive). At the root, his experience and mine are hopeful accounts of what happens when  you insist on being in the room and actually show up. I don't pretend like every story traces such a happy arc. But it remains possible, and so I remain optimistic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I see the practical sense of your position, but it's wrong as a point of principle. The far-right marchers in Charlottesville were ostentatious in their hatred of Jews. It's time that people on the anti-racist Left stopped pretending that antisemitism in the US is practically dead. They need to address antisemitism, among other forms of prejudice, and as part of this they need to actively reach out to Jews and include them.